Geography of Coffee -- Coffee Brewing and Preparation
Geography of Coffee
Matagalpa Study Tour -- 2009
Days 1-2: León to Estelí

James Hayes-Bohanan , Ph.D.
Bridgewater State College Geography
UPDATED January 15, 2009

Nicaragua Coffee Map Cafezinho - Brazil
Cafezinho in Florianópolis
This page is part of a series describing my January 5-15, 2009 study tour in León, Estelí, Matagalpa, and Granada. See my Coffee-Nicaragua
page for stories, insights, and photographs from the 2006 and 2007 study tours.
This page includes only a few photos. All of these and many more are available at higher resolution on Flickr!

Seismic station on volcano Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

This seismic station at the rim of its caldera serves as a reminder that Cerro Negro (Black Mountain) is the most recently active of Nicaragua's sixteen active volcanoes. Several students can be seen walking along the top of the rim on the opposite side of opening. A 1995 eruption removed a significant portion of the volcano. It was followed by a 1999 explosion that forced many evacuatoins in the vicinity.

Throughout the world, fine coffees are found in volcanic regions, where youthful soils provide the nutrients with which coffee can flourish. In the tropical latitudes, high altitudes contribute to a favorable climate.

Ben Linder Cafe, Leon Nicaragua

The Ben Linder Cafe is a cooperative, community-based venture that employs and empowers people of many abilities in the city of Leon. The cafe is named in honor of a civil engineer from the United States who was killed by the (US-backed) Contras. He is a beloved figure in Nicaragua who remained dedicated to its people. In addition to developing water resources, Ben Linder provided clown shows for children. Because of his deep connection to Nicaragua, his family allowed him to be buried in Matagalpa.

We enjoyed excellent lunch and coffee at the Ben Linder Cafe and learned some of the other does more, however, than excel at coffee. The cafe provides something important but not yet common in Latin America, which is a place for people of all physical abilities to work, contribute, and sustain themselves. The cafe roasts and serves some of the finest coffees in the world, from CECOCAFEN and other fair-trade cooperatives. It also provides healthy, local food in a comfortable atmosphere. The cafe's enterprises also include a massage service that employs workers who have lost their sight and a gallery that sells wonderful local art.

Ben Linder Cafe -- Coffee Roasting
For the first time, this study tour included a roasting demonstration. The vast majority of coffee produced and consumed in Nicaragua is roasted elsewhere. Ben Linder Cafe contributes to local economic sustainability by shifting local conumption to local production, while also provided professional development for its roasting staff.
Ben Linder Cafe -- Leon, Nicaragua Ben Linder Cafe -- Coffee Art

People often ask if fair-trade coffee tastes "as good" as reguarl coffee. I usually answer that if the land and the coffee are treated well, the coffee is likely to be better. Coffee production has about 50 steps. At the Ben Linder Cafe, we had the privilege of enjoying coffee that was planted, cultivated, harvested, and processed with care and then roasted, ground and brewed right before our eyes, It was then poured into heated glass cups, and finished with a bit of latte art. The result is easy to guess: Mmmmmmm. One of the cups had fair-trade chocolate melted at the bottom. Double-Mmmmmmm.

From the Ben Linder Cafe, we went to PLUSAA, a small enterprise that recieves support from the Polus Center for Social and Economic Development. This small enterprise manufactures 18 custom-built wheelchairs every 18 days, along with necessary support and guidance. About half of the employees are themselves wheelchair users.

All clients pay for their wheelchairs (or walkers or other custom devices), but they pay an amount appropriate to their circumstances. The payment might be quite low, but it is important that users are fully invested in the equipment they use. The total cost is kept low by careful planning and design and the use of local materials.

 US AID -- Public Diplomacy
The work of PLUSAA is also supported by the people of the United States through the Agency for International Development. After decades of policies that killed and maimed thousands of innocents in Nicaragua, this support is a source of some pride, however long overdue.

In addition to providing people -- including victims of landmines -- with much-needed wheelchairs and the training  and social support to use them, PLUSAA is a place where people who have suffered severe injuries can grow, contribute, and develop skills.

Global Technology Classroom

At the conclusion of our facility tour, we had what has become an increasingly common experience for me in developing countries -- spontaneous innovation in the use of teaching technologies. In this case, PLUSAA had an instructional slide show, but its computer room was not big enough to show it to our group. So our van bumper became a temporary classroom, with one of our bilingual students translating the text.
Welding wheelchairs at PLUSAA in Leon

Walking Unidos logo The third project we visited in León was Walking Unidos. Like PLUSAA it serves a variety of clients with injuries or with congenital conditions, in this case those resulting in full or partial limb loss. Many of the technicians at Walking Unidos are themselves users of prosthetics. We learned that the transition to prosthetics can be quite difficult emotionally, so the involvement of prosthetic users is an important part of the program's success. As with PLUSAA, clients pay for an apporpiate part of the cost of their prosthetics.

Polus Center Office -- Leon, NicaraguaVisiting the three Polus Center projects in León was an emotional experience for me. I was humbled by the grace and dignity of all the people we met and at the same time was overwhelmed by the thought of the kinds of losses they had faced -- and were overcoming.

Based on my previous experiences with Polus Center in Massachusetts, I was not surprised to find the Center's office in Leon to be well organized and prepared to receive potential clients with professionalism and dignity.

Prosthetics guages

A Walking Unidos prosthetic technician explained the process of measuring and planning a prosthetic devise, and the relationship between medical professionals who prescribe prosthetics and the Walking Unidos staff who design them and train clients in their use.

I took the photograph below with the intention of focusing on the prosthetic mold itself. I was quite taken aback when I looked at the photo later.
 Prosthetic foot fabrication

As the sub-title of this page suggests, from León we proceeded to Estelí for a brief visit to a demonstration project in sustainable farming. Although many of the roads in Nicaragua have improved since my 2007 study tour, this road remains quite difficult, so that a drive of almost four hours was needed to travel about 90 miles across flat land. We learned how worms are used in the development of compost from cow manure and we tasted some wonderful cheeses.

Mmmm ... Cheese!

In the community in Estelí we met a shop-keeper from Italy who had been living in New York City during the sanctuary movement of the 1980s. This was a movement -- with which I was peripherally involved -- to shelter refugees from Central America's wars in church communities in the United States. He then moved to Nicaragua in the 1990s to be with the people he had been helping to protect a decade earlier, and now he operates an exquisite shop that sells local crafts, teas, honey, and fruit preserves.

Esteli Shop Keeper

Next see Days 3-4: City of Matagalpa

This page includes only a few photos.
All of these and many more are available at higher resolution on

Dr. James Hayes-Bohanan
Department of Geography -- Bridgewater State College
Bridgewater, Massachusetts USA / EEUU / EUA